Lunchbox regulars know that there are a few favorite authors that I buy in hardback, recommend wholeheartedly, and await with anticipation their next novel. Back in the day it was Dick Francis, Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky and John Grisham. Currently, it’s Ian Rankin, Laura Lippmann, Michael Connelly, Louise Penny, William Kent Krueger and Mo Hayder. It was a wonderful day when I discovered Mo Hayder’s Gone – not to mention her entire back catalog – and I marveled at her ability to create suspense and surprise. As an aspiring writer myself, reading Gone was like a master lesson in craft. It deserved and won the Edgar for Best Novel in 2012.
No surprise to me – Mo Hayder has penned another masterclass of a thrilling detective story with Wolf. If anything the plot is even more knotty than Gone, and there’s no cheating. Reading Wolf the third time through to review it for the MWA Edgar for Best Novel, I was able to note all the clues that I should have been picking up on were right there in front of me.
There are two plot threads. In the first, a wealthy family – the Anchor-Ferrars – are settling into their comfortable vacation home when they’re visited by two policemen, DI Honey and DS Molina. Fifteen years previously, a teenage couple had been brutally murdered just a short distance away. The killer disemboweled them both and strung their intestines, shaped into a heart, in the trees above them. Now it appears that a second, similar murder has taken place, and the family is stricken to learn that their safety is at risk. And it certainly is, for we soon realize that the policemen are not policemen at all, but have been hired to terrorize the family in order to suppress the publication of Oliver Anchor-Ferrars’ memoirs. Although he’s now in his mid-60s and recovering from open-heart surgery, Oliver Anchor-Ferrars is a much harder and smarter man than he appears. Over the four days of their captivity, Oliver deduces the truth and leaves a hidden message for the police detective he anticipates will be responsible for solving the crime.
The second thread is DI Jack Caffery’s lifelong search for the truth about the abduction and presumed sexual assault and murder of his 9-year-old brother, Ewan. The Caffery family lived just steps away from a known pedophile, and Jack has spent decades trying to discover what happened to his brother and to find his body. He’s similar, in that respect, to Hayder’s continuing character known as the walking man. The walking man is a homeless itinerant, but highly intelligent and educated man, whose daughter was abducted. He searches as he walks, seeking her body, and sometimes shares information with Jack. And sometimes he doesn’t.
The threads come together through coincidence, or as the walking man would have it, fate. For the only hope for rescue of the Anchor-Ferrars family rests in the speedy exit of their Border terrier, Bear. A note reading “Help Us,” and including their address, was attached to Bear’s collar by Mrs. Anchor-Ferrars, who then threw the dog down the fireplace chimney. Injured and with most of the note missing, Bear is discovered by a little blonde girl – Amy – in the nearby park who turns to none other than the walking man for help. And the walking man turns to Jack, dangling the potential of information about Ewan from a new source as his incentive to track down Bear’s owners.
And thus does Jack Caffery begin his search, even as Honey and Molina are inflicting mental torture and physical abuse on the family. It’s a long and complicated process, and Jack prevails in bringing all the perpetrators to justice, although the day is not entirely saved. (I’ll say no more for fear of spoilers.)
Mo Hayder has written a perfect Rubik’s cube of a puzzle, where all the pieces slot perfectly into place but there’s a lot of looking at things in new ways to make them do so. At the same time, the characters are simply the most well-drawn and compelling characters – good guys, bad guys, and minor walk-ons alike – that I have seen in … well, forever, really. The book itself is painful at many points and the resolution of the mystery of Jack’s brother Ewan is surprising, ironic, and completely in keeping with the synchronicity of life’s events.
So, there’s the review – but what about the ranking? The #1 ranked novel, Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes, is an excellent book and I look forward to more from Bill Hodges. But Mo Hayder’s Wolf is a deeper experience all together – it takes the top spot. I forecast Wolf as the big winner at the Edgar Awards ceremony this week.
- Wolf by Mo Hayder
- Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
- Cop Town by Karin Slaughter
- The Final Silence by Stuart Neville
- Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin
- This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash
The Mystery Writers of America Edgars Banquet is Wednesday, April 29. That night, the winners of the Best Novel and Best First Novel awards will be announced, among others. My former colleague Jim Klise is up for an Edgar for his YA novel, The Art of Secrets. (Good luck, Jim!) We’ll see if he prevails, and if my calls of Mo Hayder’s Wolf and Tim Bouman’s Dry Bones in the Valley are on the money.